Secret ingredient: Kecap manis

17:00, Sep 24 2012
kecap manis
PANTRY MUST-HAVE: Kecap manis.

The word 'ketchup' - the English word for a sweet, savoury condiment sauce - is derived from the word 'kecap'. Kecap manis is an essential ingredient in a lot of Asian cooking, particularly Indonesian and Malaysian. Here's how to use it.

WHAT IS KECAP MANIS?
An Indonesian sauce similar to a sweet soy sauce flavoured with garlic and/or star anise, kecap manis (often called Indonesian soy sauce) is used as a condiment. Sweetened with palm sugar, it's a thick sauce, not at all salty, and has a very rich caramel flavour. Kecap means sauce, and manis means sweet. Kecap manis sedangis is another Indonesian sauce, which is less thick and not so sweet.

WHAT DOES IT TASTE LIKE?
The palm sugar content in kecap manis makes it sweet, a bit like treacle. A slight spiciness helps contribute to the lovely rich umami flavour in Asian foods.
 
WHERE CAN I FIND IT?
Kecap manis is easily found in most good supermarkets and definitely in Asian supermarkets. It is very reasonably priced.
 
WHAT CAN I USE INSTEAD?
Kecap manis is essential if you want to recreate those traditional Asian flavours. Ordinary soy sauce (preferably dark rather than light), along with some brown sugar, palm sugar, treacle or molasses will do the trick if you don't have any, but it really is worth getting the real thing.
 
GOT ANY GOOD RECIPES USING IT?
It is an essential ingredient in classic Indonesian dishes such as nasi goreng (rice) or mie goreng (noodles). Try this recipe for sticky soy and five-spice roast pork with shiitake rice.

Greig Buckley is a member of the New Zealand Guild of Food Writers and has a business that promotes and sells artisan New Zealand foods online.

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